Kevin Harvick wins 4th pole of 2014, sets Brickyard 400 track record

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INDIANAPOLIS – Kevin Harvick set a new Indianapolis Motor Speedway track speed record in a stock car on Saturday, earning the pole for Sunday’s Brickyard 400.

Harvick was the only driver to exceed 188 mph, recording a freaky fast mark of 188.470 mph. He finds himself in the same spot he was in the 2003 Brickyard, earning the pole and eventually winning the race.

Harvick has now won four poles in the first 20 races this season.

“They’ve turned me into a halfway-good qualifier with fast race cars,” Harvick told ESPN with a laugh. “To have the first pit stall, your problems will be a less starting from the front.”

Four-time Brickyard winner and current Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon qualified second with a speed of 187.770 mph and will start on the outside of the front row Sunday.

“I know we weren’t as good as Kevin today,” Gordon said. “But to have that awesome of a day and to be that close … to be on that front row 20 years after the first one, I get excited, what can I say?”

Chevrolet is going for its 12th consecutive win at the 2.5-mile oval. It’s certainly in good shape with six Chevy-powered drivers in the top 10.

But Chevy will have a strong challenge from Ford, particularly those of Penske Racing, which placed three drivers in the top-9: Brad Keselowski will start third, Juan Pablo-Montoya starts eighth and Joey Logano ninth.

Only one Toyota-powered driver qualified in the top-10, Brian Vickers.

Four-time Brickyard winner Jimmie Johnson, who is being picked by many as the favorite to win Sunday, qualified 11th.

“Decent performance, of course we’d like to be better, but at least we can see the front from there,” Johnson said.

Also having a decent qualifying run was Danica Patrick, who will start 14th.

Making only his third start of the 2014 season, Bobby Labonte made the field not on speed but on a past provisional, having been a former Brickyard 400 champion back in 2000.

Also, Aric Almirola will start near the back of the field due to going to a back-up car after hitting the wall during practice.

Brett Moffitt, Indiana native David Stremme and Camping World Truck Series regular Matt Crafton all failed to qualify and will miss Sunday’s race.

Here’s the starting grid for the 21st annual Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

Row 1: Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon

Row 2: Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman

Row 3: Brian Vickers, Tony Stewart

Row 4: Kurt Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya

Row 5: Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne

Row 6: Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch

Row 7: Matt Kenseth, Danica Patrick

Row 8: Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer

Row 9: Austin Dillon, Carl Edwards

Row 10: Greg Biffle, Trevor Bayne

Row 11: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Marcos Ambrose

Row 12: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray

Row 13: Martin Truex Jr., Casey Mears

Row 14: Denny Hamlin, Michael McDowell

Row 15: Paul Menard, Josh Wise

Row 16: Justin Allgaier, Ryan Truex

Row 17: Michael Annett, David Gilliland

Row 18: Alex Bowman, AJ Allmendinger

Row 19: Landon Cassill, David Ragan

Row 20: Cole Whitt, Travis Kvapil

Row 21: Aric Almirola, Reed Sorenson

Row 22: Bobby Labonte

Did not qualify: Brett Moffitt, David Stremme, Matt Crafton

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F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.